Sunday, 22 June 2008

In the long run

Two more weekends of work to report on.

Looks like I might just be doing weekends and nights for a while. With oil prices on the increase and everyone generally talking about tightening their belts my wife and I thought it might be an idea for her to hold off the plans for me to go full time in the cab.

My first fuel receipt for the cab only eight months ago shows that the price of diesel was 96.9 pence per litre. I filled up yesterday at one of the cheapest local garages to me and paid 128.9p per litre, an increase of about 33 per cent. Compare that to the 4.5% increase that we managed to get from Transport for London on the tariff and you can see that we're starting to suffer a bit. Perhaps I'll become a fuel tanker driver and look forward to the 14% increase on a salary of around £40K p.a.

I know there are plenty of other things that will be hit by this huge price increase (others in the transport industry and indirectly, anything else that relies on the price of oil - just about everything if you look closely) but how do we resolve the problem. Perhaps the government could see people in transport as needing a fuel price reduction and let us by fuel at lower rates. Some hope. We could have an extra price rise on the taxi tariff, but that could just kill the industry off. People already moan that London taxis are the most expensive in the world so any increase may see them turn away from us and go towards other forms of transport. Perhaps in times of recession we just have to realise that we've got to work that little bit longer to keep our takings on a par with the "good times".

There is also news of a new taxi for London. Not saying that we don't need something as competition for LTi's TX4 but to bring out a vehicle that doesn't look like a London Taxi (regardless of whether it meets the conditions of fitness - 5 passengers, 25' turning circle etc) is going to leave the trade open minicab drivers and others buying similar vehicles, fitting a light dome and coming in to take work from us. How will passengers know whether they are using a genuine London cab or a cheaper (the new Mercedes is reported to be about the same price tag as a TX4) version that externally looks the same. And will they care, just so long as they get to their destination. Let's hope they get to the destination safely.

That said, it's bad enough that we have to battle against the legal minicabs, illegal touts and the rickshaws that form rings of steel around theatres at kicking out time, but more and more cab drivers are putting two fingers up to their own by jumping queues at some stations, picking up insight of ranks where cabbies are already waiting for work.

I ranked up outside Hamleys yesterday and in five minutes two cabs picked up jobs right next to the rank while I was there with my light on. I tried to get the attention of the drivers but they didn't seem to care that they were nicking jobs less than 20 feet from a ranked cab. Perhaps it's getting more dog-eat-dog out there. Let's hope that the majority of drivers keep up the etiquette than go for the other option.

Following on from my moan about non-tippers I decided to see if I could figure who are the best and worst tippers. There doesn't seem to be any real pattern to the type of person who tips and who doesn't buty I've found that Londoners tend to tip more than foreigners, and that Australians didn't tip at all over the past two weekends. Women are more generous than men (but we all knew that they are more caring and sharing than us blokes anyway.... didn't we?), and couples tend to tip more if the bloke is drunk and trying to impress.

Other than the couple I picked up from outside Liberty in Great Marlborough Street, going to Denmark Road in Camberwell last night. Not sure that he would have impressed anyone unless he was in a How-many-times-can-you-say-"F***"-in-one-sentence competition. She was a bit wobbly as she got in, he was even worse. Before we'd even got to Regent Street, a distance of less than 100 yards he'd shouted "Put some f***ing tunes on!". He then wanted to argue about what was good music and what wasn't, so I eventually found a station with a song he liked and turned it up so I couldn't hear him. Once in Regent Street he banged on the glass partition and slurred something in his best Sauchiehall Street aggressive drunk accent. I wasn't sure what he said but it was well punctuated with expletives, generally aimed in my direction. I pulled the cab to the kerb and told him that he could either calm down or find another cab. One slurred apology later and we're off to Camberwell, music turned up and intercom switched off.

I heard more from him as the journey continued, particularly some really nasty racist comments as we hit Elephant and Castle. I was tempted to drop him off there and then but figured I'd lose out on the rest of the fare so continued down Walworth Road towards the destination. We eventually got to the drop off point with £25.20 on the meter. He handed me two tenners and started "F***ing let me out of the f***ing cab, you c***". Clearly his day job with the diplomatic corps was frustrating him, especially when I told him that I needed another fiver. Another string of expletives and he realised that I didn't have my foot on the brake so he could have got out of the cab at any point. His girlfriend gave me four two pound coins and an apology while he stood at the side window streaming it with abuse and spittle. Hopefully I'll not have to deal with him ever again.

Luckily most other couples were a lot more pleasant than Wayne and Waynetta as I worked my way through a fairly slow Saturday night. As usual when it came time to think about heading for home I managed to pull jobs heading in West rather than towards the wonders of the new tarmac on the Gravesend stretch of the A2. The weekend before last saw jobs to Acton and Ealing on both nights with some help on the way back into town at Shepherds Bush. However, as I was preparing to head towards the O2 dome for a last job on Saturday, I picked up a couple on Regent Street wanting to go to Northcote Road near Clapham Junction. After dropping them off I headed back towards the West End and picked up almost immediately, a fare going towards Wimbledon, even further away from home.

I was tempted at this point to switch the light off and head for home, but I though that the next job MUST take me back in the right direction. I got as far as the Clapham Grand before a hand went out ... on the proper side of the road as well...

"Chessington please". Then a pause after the female passenger got in while the male stood outside the cab looking at me, then looking at her.

"Are you getting in this cab or not?". No it wasn't me asking the question, it was the young lady already on board.

With a tiny rebellion going on he mumbled "I dunno, you tell me" as he stepped in the back and slammed the door. I was tempted to comment about not taking it out on the vehicle but thought better of it since he had gone quiet and the only sound from the back was the lady sniffing back tears.

Time for the radio to go on again, and before too long she was screaming at him about his mates, his work and who knows what else. Luckily the TX2 is quite a noisy beast above 40mph so all went quiet again once we hit the A3. And it stayed quiet as peace descended on the pair and I started praying that they would get home before they did the whole "best part of breaking up is making up" routine in the back of the cab.

On the way back into town I managed to pick up five passengers at Putney Heath on their way to Clapham Junction, and then I crossed the river and found four people on the Kings Road heading towards Amika on Kensington High Street. As soon as I dropped them four more people got in wanting to go to China White's in Air Street. To avoid waiting too long at Piccadilly Circus they jumped out at the bottom of Air Street on Piccadilly and I started to head for home thinking I should switch my light off so that I don't end up going back west.

As I reached the lights at the top of Haymarket a lady with a broad French accent asked if I would go to Newbury Park. "Hang on" thinks I, "that's out towards the East." I checked with her and she said "Zee one on zee Zentral line". "Climb aboard!"

So we set off for Essex with five French passengers, all chatting away. To keep things simple I took it straight along the river, up through the city then out along the Mile End Road, through Straftord and along the Romford Road. As we get to Ilford the passengers are being fairly quiet and whispering amongst themselves. The glass partition in the cab is nothing compared to the Bastille so I ask if everything is OK (Everything other than the £48 on the meter at this point). They say that they want to go to Newbury Park and show me a tube map with "Newbury Park" circled on it. I explain in my limited French that we are approximately "deux kilometres" from Newbury Park and point at the road sign confirming what I had told them.

A shrug of the shoulders and their hotel looms into sight over the rooftops. I drop them off and they manage to scrape together the £52.20 for the journey with an 80p tip. Personally I'd be happy paying out £10 per person at 1:30 in the morning to get along a tube line that had been out all day.

From there it was a short trip out to the M25, across Dartford Bridge and home with a happy feeling that I'd finally finished the day with a job in the right(-ish) direction.

Things could have been a whole lot different on the previous weekend. While waiting at The Island near Lancaster Gate, a young "lady" runs over to the cab and asks if I could take her to "Ssh-idcup". Lovely, a nice job in the right direction to end the night. That was as good as it got. She fell into the cab and quickly scrambled onto a chair saying "Go left, go left". Since going left would have seen me going into the face of three lanes of oncoming traffic I opted to let the knowledge lead me in the right direction. "Can you go round the block, my boyfriend's back there". So a couple more right turns later and we're back where we started.

"Keep going! I don't want to stop for that bastard", so I carry on driving, hopefully heading for the Bayswater Road and the route to Sidcup.

"Go round the block again", an instruction that I decline saying that it's all adding up on the meter. "Don't worry, I've got £20" she says. I tell her that at that time of night she'd be lucky to get to Shoreditch for £20, let alone "Sshidcup".

"But there's some mates of mine round the corner who have got my money." At this point I pull over on the Bayswater Road and suggest that she gets out of the cab, gets her money and finds another taxi. Surprisingly (or not) she doesn't argue and gets straight out of the cab. I suspect that it's not the first time she's tried to pull this particular trick. I end up only losing £3.80 on the clock and 5 minutes of my time. Could have been somewhere around an hour and £50.

These long trips got me thinking about longer runs out into the suburbs, maybe from town or even from Heathrow so today I invested in a ... dare I say it?... Tom Tom sat nav system. i've made a couple of short journeys around my home towns and have found it to be a pile of poop compared to my local knowledge, but it does appear to correct and learn fairly quickly. I'm sure that over the next few weeks it'll sit in the cab and not be used very much, but if it helps me on a trip to East Grinstead next weekend when my daughter goes to Guide camp, and on a poorly planned motorbike tour into Spain, then it will have been an experience. Don't think I'll bother with it in town since my fat fingers make so many mistakes on the small touch screen it would be quicker to walk than let me correct my errors. I might leave it on though and run it as a comparison. I'll let you all know how well it goes... or not.

btw, knowledge boys and girls. If you wonder why you have to learn things like how to get in and out of Cleaver Square in Kennington, I had a job to there last weekend. After the passenger had paid me he offered me the route out. I interrupted him say, "Bowden, Methley, Milverton". He smiled and walked away saying "Very Impressive". Not sure Sat Nav would have been as quick.


Anonymous said...

Any job dealing wiht the general public, in the service industry, is tough. Some members of the public are abusive, ignorant, and totally lacking in common courtesy - drunk and sober alike. I was a nurse for 30 years and have also suffered abusive language, threats and violence, from both drunk and sober people. My salary has never covered my living expenses (especially living in London), but as a public sector worker I have never been in a position where I could just stop and tell someone to get out.
On the subject of the cost of fuel. I applaud what you say about riding the storm and working a bit harder to keep your expenses and keep your customers.
Having injured my back lifting patients I am now disabled and need to use taxis to get about. I was charged £7 by a minicab driver yesterday, for a 5 minute journey (that's a fare increase of £2). I had been taken ill with acute conjunctivits and could barely see, so I needed to get to the pharmacy dept in Peckham Morrisons before it closed for the night. The driver could see something was very wrong and I explained my dilemma to him.
I have been using this particular Peckham minicab company for years now, but have no intention of using their services again. As you say, if the fares keep going up the public will not use the service. We are not all lucky enough to have our incomes increased in line with price rises and inflation and simply cannot afford to use services whose charges just keep going up and up and up. If you keep putting the cost of the fares up the public will simply pull their belts in, change their habits and find another cheaper way.
Next time I am in trouble, or need a ride to a hospital appt, I will ask a friend or relative for assistance.
Yes these are hard times, and we have all been through hard times, but the answer is not to pass the expense on to loyal regulars and lose their custom. Remember, people get used to going without something, especially in the UK, we are very adept at finding alternative ways of living our lives to cope in difficult times.

Anonymous said...

sorry to go off topic,but could you offer a little advise?i am currently a house husband and wish to do the suburban yellow badge as (time + money dictates),would you at all know if the o2 arena tube station rank is fairly busy (i have heard evening commuters then later with concerts can be enough to earn a living) day or night?as this sector is the one i am interested in studying(i know you rank there occasionaly but when i went to look it was dead as a door nail,thanks.

Anonymous said...

I can relate to what you say about "tipping types" - there isn't one. That said, I do find the posh lot are awful at tipping. Example, I took 2 businessmen from very posh restaurant to a very posh hotel (As posh as you can get for Liverpool)Fare: £4.20. Gives me a fiver, I give 80p back, then he gives me 50p. Very bad Tipping tipping Etiquette!. I would say 4/10 tend people leave it at a fiver.

Kev said...

I only tend to get to the O2 on my way home now, so usually after a concert. There is then a couple of hours of steady work ferrying people usually to the hotels on the other sid eof the Blackwall Tunnel.

I've been there other times of day and, as you say it usually seems quiet. Perhaps a word with a suburban driver might be able to enlighten you further.

If you've got the time to do it, I'd go for the Green Badge. If you do decide on the suburban sector, you might find it worth your while to get on one of the radio circuits just to help out during the periods when there isn't as much street work.

Anonymous said...

thanks for answering kev,i can only manage a suburban sector, daughter starts nursery soon so half a chance,i feel if i aproached a driver i would most likely get "the games dead" response, did check out lewisham station which was more busy so with o2 for nights and lewisham ticking over for days i may have things covered.will read this blog frequently,and maybe watchout for any o2 goings on in here.will let you know how i get on ,much thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Hello mate, I have read your blog with interest over the last few weeks. I have a question, if I may, why did you decide to rent a cab and, now that you've been doing it a while, do you think it was a good decision? Cheers for your efforts and keep it up, you are clearly an inspiration for some. Thanks, Steve.

Kev said...

It's a matter of preference whether you rent or buy. I'm sure there are financial factors to take into account. My old Callover Partner has bought a 54 plate TX2 and pays a bit less than me per week on his finance. At the end of (I think) 3 years he will own his own vehicle whereas I will have paid out more than the cost of a second hand vehicle and have nothing to my at the end of three years.

However, if anything goes wrong with your vehicle the costs are down to you (or if you reverse into your neighbours newly repaired vehicle, eh Brian?). You also have your insurance, vehicle license, plate costs, tyres and servicing costs on your own vehicle, whereas I take mine in to be repaired and it's done. A replacement vehicle costs me nothing while repairs are done.

If I fancy a holiday I can give the cab back for a couple of weeks and save myself a few quid in rent, whereas a "musher" would still have to keep up payments while he or she isn't working. Same if you can't work through illness or injury.

Have a word with a few garages and other drivers and see if you can figure what the costs might be to yourself over (say) a three year period.

Be lucky


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